Director Richard Raaphorst has been on a whirlwind world tour over the last year promoting his flesh-mecha hybrid, Frankenstein’s Army, and although he seems to be ready for things to slow down a little, he’s definitely enjoying the ride.
Combining the horrors of war with the world of monsters, using found footage and long takes to bring more immediacy, Raaphorst and his inventive designs and illustrations have become beloved by fans who have been lucky enough to see his directorial debut.
Now, thanks to Dark Sky Films, anyone and everyone can pick up Frankenstein’s Army on DVD and Blu-ray. Richard was also nice enough to send along an exclusive sketch of the zombot Spider Legs that he drew up for Dread while relaxing in a pub somewhere in the Czech Republic. From the interview below, you can see that Raaphorst is still fully engaged and upbeat when talking about his designs and his first film.
DC: I actually reviewed the film at Tribeca, and that seems like a long time ago for me, so this has been a very long road to get this film made and now with all the press that you’re doing.
RR: Yes, I thought Tribeca was the end of the road, but it was really the start of it.
DC: This is a pretty unique storyline. Can you tell me how the combination of Frankenstein and Nazis came about and what your fascination is with illustrating zombie imagery? Did it start way before Worse Case Scenario was being developed?
RR: I always had a deep fascination for industrial forms and industry machinery; I liked those industrial landscapes. I love those sounds – everything which is metal. I just have a fetish for it and I’ve had it all my life. When I was a kid, I was already making puppets. I stole a Barbie doll and a Ken doll and I just formed them into robots, so this fascination of designing zombots or anything which is similar I’ve had all my life. At a certain point, I wanted to make two movies; I wanted to do something with war and I wanted to do something with bio-mechanical creatures. [Then] I thought, ‘Why not combine those together?” and I did. The title came to me and I thought, ‘This is it!’ This is what I wanted to do with every aspect, so everything came together at a certain point.
DC: Can you talk a little bit about the design process of each zombot character and how they began to take shape? Are you inspired by your dreams or nightmares at all? How do those images usually come into your mind?
RR: When I need to design, I didn’t know what to do because I’ve done it so many times. I’ve got notebooks full of it. I thought, ‘How can I reinvent myself?’ so I just started with one character. I’ll just design one character and that’s it and it will be completely naked without any clothes, without any ideas, and it became the burnt match man. From there, I started to add things, play around with it piece by piece doing a lot of experiments. The ideas are just coming into your mind. It’s almost like you need to turn it down then to get inspired by new ideas. It was a matter of selection. What is supposed to be in the movie and what’s not. The rule was every character should have a combination that is almost impossible which is illogical and, therefore, is good. It’s the same with the title: You combine two worlds which are very illogical but that’s the game and you have to make it fit.
DC: Around Tribeca, we chatted very briefly and i had mentioned to you that trading cards of the zombots or lobby cards based on them would be a great idea. Is that a real possibility? Also, you’ve got a lot of artwork and designs that you haven’t used. Is there any interest in putting all of those together into a book of some kind?
RR: Yeah, there is this interest and I’m also playing around with thoughts to give it a good shape. The thing is, if I’m going to do that, it has to be complete. You don’t design a few cards; you have to create a complete deck. I’m developing a strategy to see if it’s possible but I’m definitely interested in doing something. It’s not commercially interesting; it’s really just because of the fun to do it. But yeah, I’d love to but first I need to get out of this roller coaster before I can focus on something like that. I designed the characters of the zombots as action figures, like full-size action figures, like war toys. When I designed them, I thought, ‘Would I want to have this if I see this in the shop? Will I buy this or not?’ That was, for me, the criteria to give the green light. So making collector cards is very logical; it’s part of the heart of it.
DC: If I see it in the shop, I will definitely buy one.
RR: Thank you. Save one for me!
DC: Do you like the device of found footage in other films? Why did you feel that technique was the best way to tell the tale of Frankenstein’s Army?
RR: It is not a logical decision for me. I’m an expert in making compositions and I couldn’t do this at this time. I wanted to liberate myself from that kind of thinking because I don’t want to think in visuals only. I want to be involved with the acting and in the action. I want to participate. The second reason was I wanted to make it a physical movie but also I wanted to give the movie a deteriorated structure with second-hand material being used – the same material as the zombots because they are recycled body parts – and I wanted to give the movie a recycled kind of atmosphere. That, for me, was the reason to do it first-person. Also, found footage means that it’s a patchwork of several sequences stuck together like the skin of a monster.
DC: So really what you’re saying is that Frankenstein’s Army is pro-environment and it encourages recycling.
RR: (laughs) Totally, man. I’m totally into the green nature stuff. It already lived once and now it’s living twice. It’s a layered history.
DC: Was it difficult for you to decide between you as an artist and you as a director? With found footage, for example, you have to decide what’s the best shot as opposed to what is going to be showing off the designs better. Was it tough to be the director and put the artist aside?
RR: Yeah, it’s very very difficult. I really can’t direct and design at the same time. I have to put it away and then go in to direct. You have to use different parts of the brain. While the process was going on, I was more flexible at switching from left to right or right to left, but it’s a completely different way of creating something. You have to communicate with everyone. If you’re going to design, you have to isolate yourself. You have to become a monk with a drawing table and that’s it.
Frankenstein’s Army (review) is now available on DVD and Blu-ray!
In the dying days of World War II, a battalion of Russian soldiers find themselves lost in enemy territory in eastern Germany. One soldier (Alexander Mercury, The Golden Compass) has been ordered to make a propaganda film as the squadron makes its way across the wintry landscape, and what follows is a thrilling mix of found-footage shocks and classic horror. Stumbling upon a village decimated by an unseen terror, the Russians are lured into the secret lab of deranged scientist Viktor (Hellboy’s Karel Roden). Viktor has unearthed the journals of the legendary Dr. Victor Frankenstein and has used them to assemble an army of supersoldiers stitched together from the body parts of fallen Germans – a desperate Hitler’s last ghastly ploy to escape defeat.
Leaderless and faced with dissension in their dwindling ranks, the Russians must find the courage to face down this fearsome new brigade of flesh-and-metal “zombots” – or die trying. A nightmarish fantasy thrill ride unlike any other, Richard Raaphorst’s FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, which was filmed at abandoned World War II sites in Prague and throughout Europe, is a delirious plunge into the darkest depths of insanity.
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